“You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.” Romans 13
“Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.” Matthew 24
My two year old has no qualms about the frighteningly large spaces between the bridge’s railings; she pulls away from my hand when I demand she hold it as she leans over to see the creek twenty feet below. She unfolds a clenched hand slowly, her brain processing the effort it takes to release her treasure, leaning dangerously close to the open spaces to listen for the sound of the rock hitting the water.
She has taken up this routine every time we go on a walk down the half-mile lane that passes by our farm. I determine today that I will let her return, back and forth, to the rocks by our mailbox, collect them and go back to the bridge, two, three, four times. Though the monotony feels stifling to me, a glitch in my exercise, she finds satisfaction in the repetition.
On a biological level, children love repetition because it helps them learn skills, it helps them remember new words and master tasks new and old. But they are never just repeating the same thing over and over. They are also adding something new each time.
Though routine can sometimes make me feel pinched, our walk is one of things I’ve repeated the most in the seven years since we moved to the farm. It takes these repeated walks to learn a place, to know which flowers grow in which season, what milkweed looks like newly green growing on the side of the road, then later wilting, and then dried up so that it’s buds have opened. That’s when the feathery seeds burst out, their upside down umbrella shapes just perfect for helping them float to a new location to be spread, seeded and grown.
G.K. Chesterton famously chided adults for losing our delight in repetition when he said that we adults weren’t strong enough to “exult in monotony,” that our adulthood has made us weak, and that God is the original childlike creator, delighting in making flower after flower, bird after bird.
Perhaps Chesterton is right and I am too weak to delight in monotony. But maybe it’s more of an awakeness that I lack than the strength, a lack of awareness of the beauty emerging in the monotony.
As we begin the season of Advent, a season that we walk through each year, perhaps our repeated liturgy is about more than just waiting for the coming of Christ. It’s a way to learn God better, to know the landscape of God’s love, to watch the seasons change, to rage at God when the winter is bitter and the creek freezes over, to wonder where God is when the creek floods, to listen for God when the landscape of the bank has changed after the creek returns to perfect wading depth in summer.
Advent calls us to be alert. To merge into and sway with the sometimes gentle, sometimes cold, sometimes urgent monotony of tradition, words, and practices, so that we don’t sleep through life. So that when we finally celebrate Christ’s coming we may be fully awake to the momentous and ordinary beauty of the sound of rocks that hit the creek water.
For I’m convinced the kingdom touches to earth with every pebble that is released.
Christiana N. Peterson lives with her family on a farm in the Midwest. She has published pieces on death, fairytales, and farm life at Art House America, her.meneutics, and cordella and she’s a regular contributor to Good Letters, the Image blog. You can find more of Christiana’s writing at christiananpeterson.com and follow her on twitter.